Interior designer Mario Buatta is sometimes called “The Prince of Chintz.” And he loves it. In the 1970s and 80s, he made a name for himself creating opulent, English country style interiors for the rich and famous.
He’s designed for Jackie Onassis, Barbara Walters, and Henry Kissinger — he also created rooms in Blair House, the White House’s guest residence. The new book Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration showcases some of his greatest hits, including a 98-room castle in California.
Buatta’s luxurious interiors, with silver-leafed ceilings, glazed walls, patterned carpets, ornate antiques, elaborate draperies and all that flowery fabric, may read as blue blood indulgences today, but his skill at mixing colors, patterns and prints has influenced contemporary California decorators who attempt a similar layered look with ethnic accents and modern furniture.
And in an era defined by Belgian gray and industrial furniture, Buatta’s sumptuous spaces are being reexamined by younger designers as an antidote to 21st century minimalism.
Buatta describes creating an interior like dressing a set for a movie: “You wouldn’t put Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire in a Noël Coward setting [ala] Design for Living.” But dealing with the people who will live in that space requires an additional set of skills.
“You have to be an actor. You have to make believe you like them, you like their husband, you like their furniture, you like their bratty children,” Buatta says. “You have to be a psychiatrist to find out what they like and what they don’t like. And then you have to be a lawyer to collect your money.”
Although his interiors suggest old money and lots of it, Buatta says it’s possible to achieve aspects of his designs on the cheap, thanks to copies by Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. “You don’t need to have a fortune to have taste.”